Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Faith And Fundamentalism Of The Anti-Vaccine Movement

     Yesterday I posted responses to two highly visible articles (1, 2) on the Huffington post that were supportive of the fraudulent Andrew Wakefield.  Wakefield, if you haven't been following the story, has been found guilty of unethical misconduct, dishonest in his research, and may have faked data in the paper which became the detonator of the anti-vaccine movement (the paper that suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism).  I felt it would be an auspicious time to convince some more people that they had been misled about the link, since the Lancet retracted Wakefield's paper yesterday (in very, very harsh language for a scientific journal).  
     Alas, the responses I received from the anti-vaxxers ranged from accusations that I worked for big pharma (and that my comments were pre-written and planned PR stunts), that I didn't care about the plight of children, that the Lancet's retraction was a political sabotage meant to silence the truth tellers, that I was pushing pseudoscience... etc.)   
     The chorus of justifications, victim playing, and persecution allegations came in defense of a man who conducted experiments on children for no other reason than his own interests (the procedures were not in the children's interest and were in exchange for money)...  That really turned me ill.
     I was launched a series of graphic stories by mothers of children with autism, regarding their suffering and pain - a rather unfair way to argue the issue at hand - in order that I felt uncomfortable responding at all.  I would never presume to know their pain; I feel sympathy for their pain, even if it is hard to imagine.  But that simply does not afford their hypothesis any more veracity than it would any other empirical claim.
     It seems that evidence (forget the scientific consensus) means even less to this group than I had already expected.  Like arguing with a creationist, their positions are based on matters of faith and emotion.  There's just no retort when the argument becomes "I'm right, you're wrong, scientists are conspiring with the pharmaceutical companies to maim children in order to make money, any evidence against the link has been manufactured by the evil corporations, you don't understand the pain we suffer, I'm a mother and a mother knows what happens to her child, la la la la la la, I can't hear you, la la la la la la!"
     A perfect example of this evidence-supressing ethic happened yesterday, upon my response to one of the articles.  Kim Stagliano wrote an article and posted on The Huffington Post, by the title "The Censorship Of Autism Treatment."  In the comments section, however, she admitted to deleting comments on her website that were critical of the vaccine-autism linkage idea.  This irony was FAR too good to pass up, so I asked her to defend it.  Censorship is reprehensible on its face, let alone on an important issue such as this, where people are being misled with grave consequences (no pun intended, but appreciated).  I won't include the entire exchange, that would take up far too much space... Below is her response, and then mine:

So would you, an avowed atheist, go into a devout Christian site and tell them they are wrong, there is no God, and expect to have your comments posted regularly? Or would those Christians have the right to a single safe haven where they could share their views among each other? We are very clear in our moderation guidelines who is our target audience and the tone of our content.

I have to go tuck in my girls now. People forget in the midst of this that I have three very disabled children who will need me forever. Every Mom thinks they want their babies to need them forever. In reality, it's not quite what one had wished for. We'll even include you in our tuck in prayers. Good night, Landon Ross.


     If you find me harsh - let me stress, as clearly as possible, that this movement is KILLING AND MAIMING CHILDREN FOR LIFE... in fact, the exact accusation they level at their opponents (we who have the evidence on our side).
     The only encouraging news remains that the media has seemed to pick up the right angle on the story - and are giving the real doctors vastly more attention now than they were previously.  Just today, Arthur Caplan, Ph.D, an MSNBC contributor, published an article titled How A Zealot's Word Led Us Astray On Autism.  In it, there is some satisfyingly sobering language regarding the matter:
     Why did The Lancet finally act? Because the British board that licenses doctors recently concluded that Wakefield had “shown callous disregard” for the children in his study and had “abused his position of trust” in doing his research. In language I have almost never seen from a disciplinary body, the General Medical Council added that Wakefield acted "dishonestly," was "misleading" and "irresponsible" in the way he described the findings of his tiny study about the danger of MMR vaccine in The Lancet....     The language was probably not strong enough. The Wakefield paper killed children and left others deaf and disabled from preventable diseases as their parents, in an effort to avoid autism, left them unvaccinated.
     Wakefield’s study was both tiny and flawed. Nearly all of his 13 other co-authors eventually bailed out on the article. Still, the press could not resist from spreading the scary news over and over again, even though no one could get the same findings as Wakefield did. And Wakefield himself, supported by a fanatical anti-vaccine lobby that to this day cannot let go of the vaccine-autism connection, continued to spread fear of vaccines right up to the time of his disciplinary hearing.
Well that's more like it.  Some real knock down media coverage of a dangerous, irrational, and infectious meme that is wreaking needless havoc.


  1. Did you hear about

  2. First of all, I have to admit that I followed you here from your comments on the huffpo articles of DK and KS. Not because of your content but because of your picture. I was wondering what a young guy that was blessed with physical attributes (not from God but apes,right?) was doing on a post about the anti-vax movement. You look more like an actor in Hollywood than someone who finds science sublime. No judgements, just observations..remember correlation does not equal causation. Forgive me, just an almost middle-aged autism mom trying to have some fun! Honestly, I do admire your passion and appreciate that you're not mean-spirited or condescending in your comments. Many of your like-minded peers often feel that their scientific training makes them supremely superior to parents with children that live with the affliction called autism. I believe respectful debate and thoughtful, deliberate "listening" to one another would propel a discussion that might benefit these children. I've read your post above and see that you have put in caps that "this movement" is killing and maiming children for life. I've read the link to the story you have provided, do you have any other links for me to read or actual stats on how many have been maimed and killed in the US or abroad? BTW, I agree the AW article is quite flawed. Also, have you ever looked on the CDCs site where vaccine reactions are reported? I don't mean autism..I mean seizure, paralysis, death. It's rather eye-opening. I'm a mom with a degree in the medical field. I've had an internal conflict for many years about my training vs. actual life experience. There are no easy answers here; just a generation of very sick, debilitated children. Children afflicted not only with autism but diabetes, food allergies, asthma, and ADHD. Why is it that a large majority of these kids are born to college educated moms (and dads) that diligently took their pre-natal vitamins,have no family history of these diseases, never touched alcohol or drugs, and avoided any harmful foods during gestation? No I don't have a study to back this statement but its the same story I hear from parents regularly. We all have the same goal: happy, healthy, children that are able to contribute to society. Jennifer

  3. Links to some of the content you requested can be found in my posts on the issue, when the text is highlighted blue or gray. Thank you for your comment.

    "Many of your like-minded peers often feel that their scientific training makes them supremely superior to parents with children that live with the affliction called autism."

    - In fact, I find nothing of the sort. They might rightly believe they are superior when it comes to analysis of the data, or when rebutting an argument that is, on its face, completely unscientific, but I have never seen my peers act as if they are "supremely superior" as individuals in relation to other individuals.

    I don't have the expertise to claim there are no environmental factors to autism. What I do have the science to claim is that vaccines are not the cause. They constitute some of the safest medical advances made to date.